Leh-Ladakh is a land like no other, hence everything is worth seeing. Bounded by two of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, it lies athwart two other, the Ladakh range and the Zanskar range. The beauty of the place can not be expressed in words. When you are there, sometimes you would even stop blinking just not to miss out on anything. So, it is really difficult to list down which places to visit in Leh Ladakh, but of course if you are there for a short period of time then there are some places you would not want to miss out on. In that case reading along would help you know what to definitely experience when in Leh. It is not really about the visuals, it is more about the eternal feel.
This is the second post of our Leh Ladakh Travel Guide, a series of 3 articles consisting of:
- How to get Leh’d ? (how to reach Leh by road)
- Where to get Leh’d ? (Top Places to visit in Leh Ladakh) – This one!
- How I got Leh’d ? (about my trek to Stok Kangri – the highest trek-able peak in India – 6,153 m / 20,500 ft.)
Mentioned below are the top 9 places that we feel everyone must visit during their trip to Leh Ladakh. Most of these places I have visited myself during my trip to Leh, and remaining is on our hot Bucket List. And, like all our posts, we have compiled together a bunch of tips and useful information at the end of this article (like where to find petrol pumps, ATMs, mobile networks and a lot more).
Top 9 Places to visit in Leh Ladakh
Where to get Leh’d
At an altitude of 5359 meters above sea level, Khardung La Pass is renowned as the highest motor-able pass in the world as different sources indicate. It has a prominent chapter in the trade history of India and China and is now more known for Army activities. The pass is at a distance of 40 kms from Leh and acts as the doorway to Shyok and Nubra Valley. One would require an Inner Line Permit to pass into Nubra Valley. The permits could be easily obtained (with some charges) from the Leh DC Office between 9am to 3pm.
Biking on these roads is definitely an experience(thrilling and dangerous) of a lifetime(depending on your biking skills). Thankfully Swiner (my Colombian brother and friend) is an avid and experienced biker so I did not have to be the prospect to finish our time with life. Descending is more fun than ascending. It was fun because I was not driving.
Many bikers are seen traversing through the pass throughout the months from May to October, but during winter thick sheets of snow make this experience really difficult yet irrefutably astonishing.
? The Stok Kangri Trek: An Expedition in disguise
Worshiped for its religious implications and demonstrably boosted by the adjacent landscape, Shanti Stupa has been attracting a number of travelers, especially those who travel from Manali to Leh. This white-domed pagoda was built by a Buddhist Bhikshu as a part of the Peace Pagoda Mission. The relics of Buddha are being preserved in the base of the stupa.
The visitors either have to climb a panting flight of 500 stairs to reach the altitude of 3609 meters or can access it by a vehicle as well. From the top, the views of Leh lying across the alluring valleys is breathtakingly amazing. You can ambulate around or even meditate by sitting inside a harmonious yet silent ambiance.
? How to Reach Leh by Road
Nubra Valley, one of the popular tags among the trekkers and travelers of Leh Ladakh is a vast area acting as the separation of Ladakh from Karakoram Ranges and beholds the supremely gorgeous union of Shyok and Siachen Rivers. This generously huge cold desert has lush vegetation especially due to the presence of the rivers-meet. A mixed experience of blunt slopes, atrocious and parched mountains, sand dunes, the remnants of a glorified palace, monasteries and so on awaits every traveler who decides to go there.
Remember the breathtakingly beautiful lake from 3 Idiots ? It’s the Pangong-Tso lake that traverses the boundary international boundary to stretch from India to Bhutan. Despite being completely solid during winter, Pangong Lake or Pangong Tso, 135kms in length unquestionably makes every witnessing heart skip a beat. Stretching across an area of 604 sq.km, majority of the lake lies in China but Indians who visit the Ladakh region never miss out on the opportunity to experience this art of nature. It is actually an isolated land locked river basin with saline water in it and its geographical layout says that it does not contain any fish or even microorganisms.
With the mighty Himalayan ranges whispering on its banks, the lake acts as a mirror for everything above and around creating an unforgettable image with double the beauty.
Tso Moriri Lake
The Himalayan range of Changthang pompously hosts a valuable and enticing asset called Tso Moriri Lake, one of the calmest and most sacred high-altitude lakes in Ladakh. Being complemented as a beholder’s paradise, Tso Moriri is the largest high-altitude lake in India (roughly 29kms x 8kms), fringed by the patronizing mountains in its surrounding.
Now the lake is considered to be a preserved wetland by the Government as it acts as breeding grounds for many exotic birds. Apart from the harshness of winter, the lake pretty much vaunts of its splendid beauty and extends a quixotic feel everywhere around. From Leh there is a direct route to reach the lake that can capitalize about 6-7 hours easily.
Royal Leh Palace
Singge Namgyal, a 17th century king directed the construction of the royal Leh palace which is principally the main attraction in this incredible town of Kashmir. Though the royal families were exiled to Stok, the edifice still hosts all its grandeur like it had in the past. The fervent lovers of Himalayas, when they visit Leh, under duress visit the palace which has been an architectural icon for centuries.
It has nine stories, but the most remarkable experience is the endeavor to the rooftop to witness the priceless views of the immaculate nature around. A short climb behind the palace would get you to one of the oldest monasteries in Leh – The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery. One can eternalize the panoramic view from there with the Stok Range on the front, the Zanskar Range behind and the Indus River flowing through the valley.
Hemis National Park
Hemis National Park, a high altitude national park in the eastern Ladakh region, is the world’s favorite destination to spot the rare species of snow leopard in the wild. It is also one of the largest protected areas as the presence of snow leopards was recognized to be in a large amount. Hemis is also a homeland for the Tibetan wolf, the Eurasian brown bear and the red fox. The park is supported by the dry forests of fir, birch, juniper, etc. in the lower altitudes.
? Leh-Ladakh through My Lens – a Traveler’s Perspective
More than 1600 inhabitants are living on the outskirts of the park. Despite being a traversed destination, no motored vehicles are allowed to enter the park. To spot the magical snow leopards, enthusiasts have to arrive there in late winters which is unimaginably rough and cold.
A curiously delightful view on the Srinagar to Leh trip is the Sangam Point which is the convergence of two expansive rivers, Zanskar and Indus. This Point has been trading phenomenal wonders every year so that the travelers of Leh Ladakh arrive here to experience the divine display. One such extremely wonderous phenomenon is that during winter, the Zanskar River gets snow flaked and icy solid while the Indus hesitates to stop her journey. One can witness this by navigating towards Nimmu Village approximately 33kms from Leh.
Those who travel to Leh on road from Srinagar do come across a placard saying ‘the phenomenon defying gravity’ at Magnetic Hill about 27kms before entering Leh. The reasons for this miracle happening at Magnetic Hill are still vague. Apparently when you park your car or any vehicle in the specified box marked on the road leaving the engine off and the gear on neutral, the car starts moving. Some argue by saying gravity is the actual force behind it while some even claim to have witnessed the vehicle moving uphill. I think it is one of nature’s unique optical illusions. Mysterious yet interesting, this place has been attracting quite a number of travelers recently.
Tips and other important information
especially if you are traveling by your own vehicle…
Petrol Pumps on Manali – Leh Highway
While in Manali, you can find abundance of petrol pumps (total 6 in number).
Moving 110 km from Manali, you can find a petrol pump in Tandi.
Distance from Manali to Tandi: 110 Kms
345 km from Tandi and 30km before Leh, you can also refuel your vehicles in Karu.
Distance from Tandi to Karu: 345kms
Arriving in Leh, one can also find quite a few petrol pumps. In addition to the few petrol pumps in Leh, you can refuel your vehicles at the petrol pump near the Leh Airport (2.5 km from Leh).
Distance from Karu to Leh: 30kms
Note: Petrol is also available on the road side in somewhat grocery stores between Manali and Leh. However, the quality of the fuel cannot be guaranteed and not all of them keep it.
Mechanics on Manali-Leh Highway
ATMs on Manali-Leh Highway
It is strictly recommended that while embarking on a road-trip to Leh you carry sufficient amount of cash, as ATMs are sparsely located after Manali. Though there are sufficient ATMs for withdrawal opportunities in Manali, after which there is only one ATM you will find in Keylong.
However, it is not mandatory that the ATM in Keylong will be in working condition. So, you might directly find ATMs in Leh, which will be limited in number. Also in Leh, only a very few restaurants and hotels accept credit or debit cards, so it is advisory to be prepared with cash from the commencement itself.
Only SBI, Jammu and Kashmir Bank, HDFC, Axis Bank and ICICI Bank have their ATMs in Leh.
Places for Sleepover/Stopover…
Located 117 km away from Manali, Keylong is likely the first place to take a break for the night while on the Manali to Leh road trip. Listed below are some of the best hotels that go easy on the visitor’s wallet:
- Khandroling Guest House (This is where we stayed)
- Hotel New Gyespa
- Hotel Tashi Delek
- HPTDC Hotel Chandrabhaga
- Valley View Hotel
Distance between Manali to Keylong: 117 Kms
Note: If you take a direct bus from Manali to Leh or Delhi to Leh then the bus operators provide accommodation in Keylong (in tents mostly) and charge around 2500 – 3000 (INR) including tickets.
After Keylong, one can even halt at Sarchu, which is at around 223 kms from Manali or 96km from Keylong. Also, this region is one of the popular destinations for overnight camp/tent stays. Some of the best lodging and dining options are mentioned below:
- Himalayan Saga Camps
- Goldrop Camps
- Planet Himalaya Camps
- Antrek Camps
- Blue Poppy Camps
Distance between Manali to Sarchu: 223 Kms
Located 357km from Keylong and 250km from Sarchu, upon your arrival in Leh, you can relax around a number of hotels that are solely meant for the tourists and travelers. Most of these hotels are located within a stone’s throw distance from the main town and market area. Along the market roads one can have mouthwatering smoky kebabs from the vendors spaced out throughout the area.
Distance Between Keylong to Leh: 357 Kms
Distance between Sarchu to Leh: 250 Kms
Safety Tips and Guidelines:
Leh-Ladakh is not just another usual tourist destination to go for. As the majority of the destinations in Ladakh are located above 3000meters, it is vital that you get acclimatized to the location before you continue your journey and follow some of the important guidelines for a safe Ladakh trip. Some of them being –
- Avoid sleeping at the higher altitudes. It is usually suggested that after spending a day at a higher altitude, you move down to the lower one in the evening to stay overnight.
- Stay properly hydrated throughout the trip. Consume lots of water or other types of fluid, like soup, milk, tea, fruit juices etc. However, do not be over hydrated, as it can make you vomit or can even advance to cerebral edema with affects like weakness, confusion, hyponatremia or even coma.
- Have a diet rich in carbohydrates, because you need calories on higher altitudes.
- Carry a sufficient amount of AMS preventive medication, though it is recommended that you do consult with your doctor before doing so, as different medications may have different side effects. For proper knowledge on AMS follow our next post – How I Got Leh’d.
- Also, do not forget to carry proper ID proofs and if possible keep some attested copies of the same in case you need to submit them at the DC office for getting permits. These areas are run by the Army and the rules keep changing (when I was there, permits were not required) so kindly ask some people about them in Manali or Srinagar before leaving for Leh.
Mobile Phones and Telephone Booths
The only service providers in the valley of Leh are BSNL, Airtel and Aircel. Hence, the people who have a post-paid connection from these operators, can enjoy hassle-free connectivity while in Ladakh. On the other hand, if you do not have the post-paid connection from the aforementioned service providers, there are only two options for you: First, either buy a SIM card with the mentioned service providers, or just use the overcrowded phone booths located in the Leh city. Some hotels and Guest Houses do have Wi-Fi which makes it less of a struggle.
As the city of Leh has a considerable number of travelers and soldiers, the phone booths in the city are almost always crowded, especially the booths located near the main market or the main road.
For some reasons it is difficult for Indian nationals to buy a SIM card there so it is advisory not to put in such efforts unless you want to stay there for a pretty long time.
(Ref: some of the photos have been taken from flickr)